In front of a drapery raised and fixed to a column, Mademoiselle de Lambesc sits on a rock-chair. Its body is three-quarters, slightly turned to the right, and its beautiful face, with imperious look, is seen from the front. She wears a mythological costume, according to the fashion used in the portraits of that period: a large blue cloak covers the lower part of the body, and her white corsage is held round her waist by a gold-meshed bodice; on his left shoulder is thrown a tiger skin. The arms and the neck are of an admirable model; emerging from the folds of the dress, a small bare foot appears pink under the cords of the narrow sandal. With her right hand she holds a helmet on her knees, while from the left she completes the buckle of her younger brother, the Comte de Brionne. The latter, a handsome child with a dollish face, stands face to face, his head slightly inclined; under the cuirass he wears a yellow leotard, on which passes a white scarf which supports the sword. The advanced left hand holds the shaft of a red banner. On the left are military attributes, symbols of the noble career of arms and the glory promised to the young hero. On the skin of a drum, placed on the right, one reads the inscription: Nattier pinxit, 1732.
Mademoiselle de Lambesc belonged to the house of Lorraine, who had, so to speak, captured Nattier at the moment when her vogue was asserted. He painted the various members of this powerful family several times. His reputation as a portraitist attracted royal attention. Louis XV, delighted with this graceful and shimmering art, caused him to paint successively the queen, his mistresses, his daughters, and himself. In all these works, Nattier brought the same concern to embellish his models and to adorn them with all the attributes capable of flattering them. He excelled in painting women; the delicacy of his drawing and the delicacy of his color were admirably suited to express the grace of the beautiful bare shoulders and the sumptuousness of the court adjustments.
Mademoiselle de Lambesc as Minerva, arming her brother the Comte de Brionne date from the beautiful period of the painter who was in the full maturity of his talent. This work is not only a superb portrait, a graceful arrangement and a harmonious coloring, it reveals at the same time the tastes of the aristocratic world that Nattier always endeavored to flatter.
“He attached himself,” writes M. de Nolhac in his fine study to Nattier, “to what was called ‘the historical portrait‘, an arrangement sometimes childish, often ingenious, by which a model is transformed by means of costume and accessories, as hero of the Fable, as a divinity or as an allegorical figure. For a long time, French art had admitted this idealization of portraiture. It was doubtless a strange in pencil, like the brush of Clouet, of Corneille de Lyon, of Dumonstier, faithful observers of nature, who makes the cladding of a coat with the same scruples as the facial features; but the mania of apotheosis with which the Great King was attained from his youth extended to all his entourage. The famous picture of Nocret, in which all the royal family played his roles in an Olympus, of which Louis XIV was the Jupiter, had been imitated, reduced, and transposed to the use of the most modest models. Women, especially, with their customary taste for the artificial, solicited painters for the flattery lavished on them by the poets. While the devotees adopted for their image the costume of a saint of their choice, most women of quality were painted in Diana, Minerva, and Ceres, not yet daring to proudly wear the sparkling belt of Venus. Saint-Simon sometimes says, in the most natural tone of the world, that such a duchess occupied ‘a rank in the clouds‘; it is the glorious nudes of the Olympus of Versailles that the painter had the mission of figuring really by his brush.”
Scrupulous observer of fashion, Nattier placed all his models “in the clouds,” and painted them with the attributes of the Olympian divinities. Mademoiselle de Lambesc is represented in Minerva, Louise-Henriette de Bourbon in Hebe, Madame de Chateauroux in Dawn, Mme de Flavacourt in Silence. Allegory alternates with mythology. In charge of painting the four daughters of Louis XV, he chose the four elements to personify them: the earth, it was Madame Infante; the fire, Madame Henriette; the air, Mrs. Adelaide; the water, Mrs. Victoire.
By one of those strange turns which the fluctuations of fashion alone can explain, Nattier, after enjoying a great vogue, suddenly fell into the most complete discredit and experienced misery. This disgrace followed him to the point of death, and it is to this age that we have the honor of having done justice to the man whom Gresset called “the painter of the Graces and of Beauty.”
Although painted in 1732, the portrait of Mademoiselle de Lambesc appeared at the first Salon du Louvre which opened to the artists in September 1737. It had the title of Mademoiselle de Lambesc, from the house of Lorraine, under the figure of Minerva, arming and destining M. Comte de Brionne, his brother, to the profession of war.
This picture, by a fortunate chance not known by so many other works of Nattier, now vanished, found M. La Caze an enlightened amateur who saved him from adventures by buying it. He entered the Louvre with the other paintings of this incomparable collection.
Height: 1.91 – Width: 1.59 – Full-size figure.